ODD THOMAS. Little known fantasy thriller from the director of The Mummy
I have no patience for this author’s prose – his colloquial style cannot mask the absurdities that abound. However, I appreciate Sommers’ work. While he sometimes goes overboard with spectacle (Van Helsing, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra), he has successfully directed The Mummy and a solid actor-driven version of The Jungle Book. Unfortunately, this film demonstrates a complete lack of sensibility, both in terms of tone and the inability to handle a mix of genres. His Odd Thomas is a comedic-romantic crime story with a leading fantasy element, thematically closest to Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners, but any similarities end there. Jackson extracted everything possible from genres, while Sommers struggles even with one.
The titular character with the unusual name Odd is a cook in a fast-food joint in the small town of Pico Mundo. The cheerful twenty-something leads a peaceful life with his great love, Stormy Llewellyn, except when he sees the dead. He finds it hard to explain why this happens, but he adeptly uses his gift. As a self-proclaimed detective, he solves mysteries of the dead who approach him. However, a new situation requires him to prevent a tragedy yet to come. When he spots a flock of bodachs (demonic creatures invisible to humans) circling a certain Bob Robertson, Odd knows that dark clouds are gathering over Pico Mundo. As he uncovers Robertson’s secrets, he exposes himself to both the dead and the living. Odd Thomas it is.
The presented plot doesn’t necessarily foretell a bad film. Despite my dislike for Koontz and his previous failed adaptations (Demon Seed, Watchers, Phantoms), it’s not the story in Odd Thomas that ruins the film but the direction. One might think that a professional like Sommers, especially when adapting the work of the Lightning author himself, would navigate the intersection of genres with ease. Nothing could be further from the truth – the omnipresent voiceover narration by the main character effectively diminishes the desire to explore the world, as everything is explained and repeated three times. What’s the point of building tension when it will be squandered with Odd’s texts showcasing his cleverness and sense of humor? The pastel-colored, straight out of the 1950s town and cheerful, positively oriented characters (including the surprisingly bland Willem Dafoe as the police chief) stand in opposition to a dark plot involving demons and psychopaths. While this could create a beautiful contrast, not everyone is David Lynch or Steven Spielberg, certainly not Sommers.
Issues with tone of Odd Thomas translate into unengaging tracking of the plot, which becomes more tiresome as it progresses, especially if someone guesses the twists too quickly. The closer to the end, the worse for the viewer’s patience, and the final plot twist not only turns the tone upside down again but also leaves the viewer with a sense of resignation. “I give up,” I thought at the end, not out of despair but in solidarity with the titular character. He also got a kick in the butt, but unlike me, he had a good time for the previous 90 minutes.
Amidst all these weak elements, it’s easier to highlight those that I liked. In fact, individual components are not that bad; it’s only when combined with others that they create an indigestible mix. Anton Yelchin, playing Odd, has enough charm and talent, making his character not excessively heroic yet not making a fool of himself. However, in collision with incessant off-screen comments, he quickly becomes boring. His scenes with Addison Timlin (Stormy) are natural and charming, although the girl could use some proper acting school because smiles alone won’t get her far. Also, by treating their relationship more as youthful first love than a grand passion, the finale falls flat. Sommers seems to make this whole film half-heartedly – a smaller budget, a smaller scale, but probably smaller ambitions to squeeze as much as possible from the book material (unless more couldn’t be extracted). Using the wisdom of Mike Ehrmantraut, next time, instead of playing half-measures, he should go all in. Perhaps this way, in the future, we won’t get a comedy that isn’t funny, a crime story without surprises, a poor romance, and fantasy with bad CGI.
Such a low rating for Sommers’ film is not dictated by irritation on my part or even a dislike for the story taken from Koontz’s pages. Even now, it’s hard for me to assess whether Odd Thomas is a failed film, evidence of directorial impotence, or a designed curiosity, a cinematic oddity that simply didn’t appeal to me. Well, I don’t know, I just don’t know.